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Chess in early literature

From Academic Kids

One of the most common ways for chess historians to trace when the board game chess entered a country is to look at the literature of that country. Although due to the names associated with chess sometimes being used for more than one game (for instance Xiang-qi in China and Tables in England), the only certain reference to chess is often several hundred years later than uncertain earlier references.

The earliest dates for strong references include,

Contents

Byzantium

a. 923 AD - at-Tabari's Kitab akhbar ar-rusul wal-muluk (note the work is an arabic work, no early Greek works are known)

China

79 BC - 8 BC - lifetime of Liu Xiang 劉 向, who wrote Shuo yuan, a compilation of early Confucian anecdotes: "Do you still feel like playing Xiangqi and dancing?" Xiangqi is a recognized chess variant. Sources: Meng Changjun Played Xiangqi and Danced with Lady Zheng (http://www.yutopian.com/chinesechess/stories/meng.html), The History of Xiangqi (http://www.yutopian.com/chinesechess/history.html) and 7. Reference Guide to Classical Book Titles: (3) Sinological Indexes: Other Indices: Shuo yuan. (http://www.princeton.edu/~classbib/07books.htm)

c. 900 AD - Huan Kwai Lu ('Book of Marvels')

England

c. 1180 AD - Alexander Neckam's De Natura Rerum (note that it is thought that Neckam may have learnt of chess in Italy, not in England)

France

a. 1127 AD - A song of Guilhem IX Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine.

Germany

c. 1070 AD - Ruodlieb thought to be written by a monk near Tegernesee.

India

1148 AD - Kalhana's Rajatarangini (translated by MA Stein, 1900)

The King, though he had taken two kings (Lothana and Vigraharaja) was helpless and perplexed about the attack on the remaining one, just as a player of chess (who has taken two Kings and is perplexed about taking a third).

(note this refers to the old four-handed chess sometime known as chaturagi).

Italy

c. 1061 or 1062 AD - Letter from Petrus Damiani (Cardinal Bishop of Ostia) to the Pope-elect Alexander II and the Archdeacon Hildebrand. This letter is dated by the reference to Alexander as "Pope-elect".

Persia

c. 600 AD - Karnamak-i-Artakhshatr-i-Papakan

Artakhshir did this, and by God's help he became doughtier and more skilled than them all in ball-play, in horsemanship, in chess, in hunting and in all other accomplishments.

(It is fairly certain chess is meant due to the word chatrang being used).

Russia

13th century - Kormchaya Kniga, a set of church laws.

Spain

c. 1009 AD - castrensian will of Ermengaud I (Count of Urgel)

I order you, my executors, to give . . . these my chessmen to the convent of St. Giles, for the work of the church.

Sumatra

c. 1620 AD - Sejarah Malayu

Now this Tan Bahra was a very skillful chessplayer, and one that was unequalled at the game in that age, and he played at chess with the men of Malacca.

Switzerland

c. 997 AD - Versus de scachis in manuscript 319 at Stiftsbibliothek Einsiedeln.

References

  • HJR Murray, A History of Chess, (Oxford University Press)
  • Helena M. Gamer, The Earliest Evidence of Chess in Western Literature: The Einsiedeln Verses, Speculum, Vol. 29, No. 4. (October 1954), pp. 734-750.
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